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The Literature of a Nation Struggling for Existence: Kurdish Literature

Written by Ezgi Cakirgoz


Literary products began to emerge with the need of people to express themselves. These literary products are directly related to the author's worldview, language, religion, cultural structure, and many other factors. While giving information about Kurdish literature, it is a necessity to talk about politics and the political conditions of the Kurds throughout history. Because in the geography where Kurds live, everything, including literature, is closely tied to politics and social conditions. Probably nowhere in the world has literature been seen to be so dependent on and directly influenced by politics.


For the Kurds, the defeat of Manzikert in 1071 marked the beginning of a fragmented life under constant pressure. Since then, the Kurds have been in an intense struggle to protect themselves against foreign pressure and occupation. The events adversely affected the Kurds and Kurdistan in many different ways and became the battleground of the Ottoman and Persian Empires, then divided in two in 1639. This division has made the Kurds even poorer socially, politically, and culturally. Ehmedê Xanî describes this deadly agreement in his famous work Mem û Zîn: (1)


Bifikir ji Erab heta ve Gurcan

Kurmanc çi bûye siphê bircan

Ev Rûm û Ecem bi van hesar in

Kurmanc hemî li çar kenar in

Herdu terefan qabîlên Kurmanc

Bo tîrê qeza kirîne armanc (2)


Since those days, the Kurds have been living their divided lives in an all-out war of existence.


Furthermore, the development process of Kurdish literature has been directly related to minority policies; It has been observed that from time to time, with the prohibition of the Kurdish language in countries located in the territory of Kurdistan, Kurdish literature slowed down, and new works emerged when such bans were lifted. (3)


There is no scientific finding or information about pre-Islamic Kurdish literature. Most of the Kurdish narratives were spread orally, and this oral literature continues to exist today. Written literature up to the beginning of the 20th century is in the form of poetry. However, after 1920, different literary genres began to emerge in addition to this classical poetry form. In the early 1920s, the classicism movement emerged, which retained the classical form of poetry but dealt with political and social themes.

The story emerged in Kurdish literature in the mid-1920s and was an important step. The first stories, which do not refer to the oral tradition, are more of a critique of the social and political situation. The first story published in Iraq was "Le Xewma" (In My Dream) by Cemil Saib. This story tells about the social life during Sheikh Mahmud's rule. The second story is "Iseleyi Wijdan" (A Matter of Conscience), a critique of the corruption of urban institutions. On the other hand, the stories written in the 1930s generally sought their source in folkloric themes. This was evaluated as a reflection of the Kurdish nationalism thought that developed in this period. (4)


Kurdish Literature works have been written in four main languages: Zazaki, Gorani, Kurmanji, and Sorani. Now, let's have a look at the features of these languages.


Zazaki: This language is mostly spoken by the Zazas in eastern Turkey. The definitions of the Zazas differ from region to region. The way the Zazas are defined is not national but ethnic. The languages ​​of the Zazas and Iranian peoples come from the same root and contain many common words. In addition to this, they have many common features in terms of culture.


Gorani: This language, spoken on the Iran-Iraq border, has a rich history. Zazaki and Gorani languages are thought to be older than Kurmanji.


Kurmanji: It is the most spoken language by the Kurdish people. The oldest written record of Kurmanji Kurdish dates back to the 16th century, and many Kurdish poets, such as Ehmedê Xanî wrote in this dialect.


Sorani: This language is mostly spoken in Iraq and Iran. The Arabic-Persian alphabet is mainly used for writing. It is also the official language of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. (5)


When looking at Kurdish literature, it is necessary to see, know and understand that their literature is in a struggle for existence, just like the Kurdish country and life there. (1)



References:

  1. Uzun, M. (2000). Kürt Edebiyatına Giriş. İthaki Yayınları.

  2. Xani, E. (1692). Mem û Zîn.

  3. Kurdish literature | Kurdish Academy of language. (2008). Wayback Machine. https://web.archive.org/web/20160116214556/kurdishacademy.org/

  4. Hoşmend Osman, "Culture and Politics: Kurdish Publications in Iraq (1918-1949), Studia Kurdıca magazine, 1990 number 6.

  5. The Kurdish language. (n.d.). Kurdistan Regional Government. https://previous.cabinet.gov.krd/p/page.aspx?l=12&s=050000&r=305&p=215.

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